Contrary to popular belief, I do feel affection.
I try not to, I'll admit. Affection leads to attachment. Attachment is a weakness. I know this, I have always known this. Attachment to anything -any object, any individual, or any concept- is a weakness. If that thing is destroyed, or threatened in the least, you will be harmed. A little piece of you will be destroyed.
I know this.
And yet I cannot help myself. My school diary, my father's home, my grandfather's ring… such items hold great sentimental value for me. I am attached to them. And connected to them in a manner which few will ever understand, as few are brave enough to risk losing a part of themselves. Even fewer realise that losing a part of themselves is preferable to losing themselves completely. I know this. I understand. And so I am prepared to become attached to certain objects, as objects are threatened far more rarely than people are.
I have, however, rarely been attached to a person. Though I will admit to having had a certain fondness for Sonja Henie in my youth, however I hardly feel that qualifies.
Most people fall spectacularly short of my expectations and as such I have a hard time feeling anything for them, save contempt. And yes, that does include my followers. Each time they prostrate themselves before me, I cannot help but feel a small pang of disgust at such behaviour.
However there is one for whom I feel genuine affection. I suppose I will always feel affection for Bellatrix.
When I first met her, she bore very little resemblance to the woman she has become. She was polite, well-mannered, and restrained. Painfully, infuriatingly, restrained. Everything about her was inhibited. From her annoyingly elaborate dresses to her impeccably aristocratic tones. She was every inch the respectable pureblood young lady. But even then it was there. Just out of sight for most and as clear as day to me; the hunger. The aching, all-consuming need to find something more.
She was a teenager then, and already I knew she was dabbling in the Dark Arts. Kid stuff really. Most of what she was only then discovering, I had been well-versed in at the age of twelve. And she'd had a pureblood upbringing, which hardly helped her case. I was working in Borgin and Burke's at the time and watching her carefully. Most of my future followers, when they stood in that store, gazed longingly at Dark Magic items. Bellatrix however, could not have cared less about the various contraptions that lined the walls: She was concerned only with the books that lined the walls.
When I was young I saw drunks and drug addicts, staggering down the streets in winter and shaking all over, desperate for their next fix. They were nothing compared with the look Bellatrix Black wore as she looked at those books; the look of longing, of need, of adoration. She was infatuated with them. And always there was someone with her, stopping her from reaching out to them. It wasn't long before she began watching me back. Curiousness, interest and just a hint of that same longing always seemed to be present underneath the calm, ladylike exterior. Though as soon as she saw me notice, she would look away, embarrassed.
Then, one day she entered the store on her own. There was no one else there. Not a parents, no siblings, no friends. Just a large, jangling money bag. I was the only one in the store and, had I possessed any vague desire to turn a profit, then I would have considered her easy pickings. She was sixteen then. And the thing which most attracted me to her, was that she was supposed to be at school. She even wore her uniform. But she had snuck out, in need of another fix. It was such a delicious opportunity.
Her knowledge was vast, though her practical application less so. She lacked discipline and patience. But her potential was unquestionable. I guided her through the books. I told her where her interests should lie, where she should practise and what she should develop. I spoke to her, toyed with her and coaxed her, until the aristocratic exterior was well and truly shattered and all that remained was the hungry need to learn more. The power was still there, the manners replaced with a sort of dignified control, and the pleasant demeanour replaced with a dark engaging presence. Bellatrix Black fell away and Bella was all that remained.
I even enjoyed touching her. Every time I brushed against her hand or replaced a lock of her hair, she would tremble with longing. Which, from one who behaved so unattainable, was quite the satisfying feeling.
But then she left. I resigned shortly after that, and didn't see her again for five years. I heard tale of course. The Black girl had gone far away, people said, chasing after something or other. A terrible waste, they said, when she could bare such fine pureblood children. I, however, had more important things going on at the time.
When next I saw her, she had grown. In so many ways. She stood tall and proud, happily attracting the amorous attentions of every fool she felt need to. She wore clothes which still fell under the elegant and sophisticated category, but which one would hardly call restrained. She was proud, defiant and powerful. A skilled Legilimens, Occlumens, potion maker and even an Animagus. A skill which never struck me as particularly useful, but is entertaining nonetheless. She was a force to be reckoned with.
And yet the hunger was still there. It wasn't enough for her. I part of me wondered, and wonders still, if it would ever be enough.
I was sitting in the Hog's Head, enjoying drinks and a meal with Fenrir Greyback, when she walked in. Greyback immediately selected her as his next wolf. And so the night wore on, with Greyback growing more and more excited while Bellatrix showed no sign of noticing. She merely drank alone, paying an ungodly amount of attention to whatever it was she was reading. When the pub was nearly empty and Greyback could no longer contain himself, he approached her as I hung back and watched.
He had gotten within three metres of her when she turned to face him. Her attack was swift, silent, and barely noticeable to any outside observer. However I am relatively certain that Greyback still has the scars today. He scampered back to my side instantly and Bellatrix watched him go with a satisfied smirk. When her eyes fell on me, any trace of superiority vanished. The hungry look reappeared as she looked at me, though this time she showed no hint of embarrassment and no sign of looking away.
I finished my drink, said my goodbyes and went upstairs to me room. I had not even been inside for a full minute when she knocked upon my door. When I answered it, not a word was exchanged. I looked her up and down and opened the door a bit wider. A tiny hint of trepidation appeared in her eyes then, but if it hadn't then I would have considered her a fool. Nonetheless, she entered my chambers and didn't look back.
She asked me who I was. I remember I didn't answer her. I merely asked her to show me what she had done to Greyback. She did. I blocked the attack with ease of course and she, on instinct more than anything, retaliated. I do not think she was used to being bested in a fight. The duel which followed was short, but exhilarating. She was the first I had come across in a long time who offered any sort of challenge.
Disarmed, defeated and intriguing as ever, she lay sprawled on the floor with my wand pointed at her throat. I asked her why she'd come.
"Because you're the only one." she told me. "The only one that I'd willingly go to. They usually come to me… they're always more than willing. But not you. Never you. And I wanted to know why. I wanted you to tell me. Why won't you tell me?"
I told her then to drop her defences. To let me inside that mind of hers. She did so instantly, and without question. I perused her thoughts with ease. The lustful need for power and magic was overwhelming. She saw me as her saviour. The one who would deliver her from mediocrity. And in many ways she was right. I showed her what I wanted to show her; who I was, what I was planning and what her place in all of it would be.
We stayed that way for hours: Her beautifully, wilfully exposed in ways few could dream of and me showing her everything she longed for. It was well after two o'clock when at last I had everything I could possibly need from her. For a while at least.
She looked up at me and told me that she was mine to do with as I wished. Mind, body and soul, she said. I laughed then. I'd already had her mind, and we both knew that the second she had walked through my door she'd basically offered her body. Her soul, which she offered so readily, was harder to place however. She seemed sincere, but I knew the failings of so many followers. I didn't believe her, and I told her as much.
She said I could believe what I wanted, but that it was true. I ignored her.
In the months after that, I was hardly away from her. Her loyalty unwavering throughout her training. When she reached her peak, she was second only to myself in skill and power. Of course, that was before Severus came along. I doubt she's ever fully forgiven him for that.
I told her to marry Lestrange, she married Lestrange. In my chess game, she was the Queen; powerful, versatile and valued, while the Lestranges were the Rooks; solid, dependable, but in the end little more than pawns. Nonetheless, they served her, did her bidding and gave her a guise of respectability. All of which were useful to her, and therefore to me.
Then of course, came my thirteen year long intermission. When I hunted down Crouch and freed him from his mental prison, he told me of Bella's great battle with the Aurors. Spectacular he called it. He said he had never seen such fierce determination. But in the end, it was meaningless.
She went to Azkaban. For thirteen years, she rotted in there.
When at last she returned to me, she was broken. Her mind was fractured, her looks were gone, and the dignity she once possessed had all but disappeared. She was still lethal and dangerous, but she was a shadow of her former self. That ridiculous episode at the Ministry was hardly the first of her failings, but it was that which finally changed my attitude towards her.
She was no longer the powerful, versatile Queen amongst swine: she was little more than a liability. A terrible loss, but not a crippling one.
I like to think, that as a token of my earlier affection for her, I gave her a chance. Some time in purgatory, as it were. While her idiot nephew made his ham fisted attempts to eliminate Dumbledore, she was slowly being removed from my ranks. But I gave her a chance. When both she and the boy failed me… well, there is no use in dwelling.
With Dumbledore gone, and Harry Potter refusing to cooperate with the Ministry, the Wizarding Community is in disarray. The only thing that keeps them going is the Ministry, and so it is there that I will strike next.
Bellatrix, damaged as she is, still has one or two saving graces. Her reputation is still enough to elicit fear and her duelling ability is still above that of the average Auror. She will lead the attack on the Ministry. I told her of this fact, and told her she would do so with her face free for all the world to see.
A slow look of comprehension dawned on her face. Her face, which after eighteen months of freedom was at last starting to look recognisable once more. She smiled slightly and nodded. "As you wish Master. Always just as you wish." she whispered.
Now, as she enters my chambers for the last time, I cannot help but feel a twinge of regret.
She wears black leather boots which click smartly off my stone floor. Her long black robes and black cape both billow out behind her. Her dark hair shines like onyx, while her eyes glitter with determination. All of this, I have seen before. What I have never before seen is the gold locket around her throat.
"What is that trinket around your neck Bella?" I ask with mild curiosity. Rather than wait for an answer I reach out and flip it open. Inside, the smiling faces of a young Narcissa Malfoy and her son occupy one half of the locket, while the other half contains the distinctly more sombre faces of Druella and Cygnus Black. "Such sentimentality. Do you really suppose this has a place in battle?"
"It's place is exactly where it is." she responds coldly as she snaps it shut and places it inside her robes. "The men are ready. All of them have their instructions. The Ministry of Magic will fall this night, I assure you."
I look at her more carefully. She stands, like an Army General about to lead her troops to war. Which is, I suppose, exactly what she is. But it has been so long since she has looked like one. I almost wish I did not have to send her on such a mission, lest she be my Bellatrix once more.
"I am glad to hear that." I tell her. "I have one question, before you leave."
"Yes my Lord?"
"Do you ever wish you had not entered my service?" I ask. It surprises me that I genuinely want to know.
"Never my lord." she responds easily. Perhaps a bit too easily. I look her in the eyes in the same way I've done a thousand times before. She knows what it means, and drops all her defences. A dozen feelings hit me at once.
Determination, resolve, anticipation, fear… and a strange sort of resignation. I snap back into myself as I realise that she knows. She knows, just as I have always known, that she is not coming back from the Ministry. That she will die, and that I sent her to her death willingly. And that she would still go.
I looked at her again. She holds her head high and does not shy away from my gaze. A small smile appears on her lips.
"I was getting better my lord." she informs me. "Azkaban had worn me down, but it had not broken me as you think it did. I was getting better… but weakness can not be tolerated, and should not be encouraged. If my service has displeased you then I'm sorry." She breathes deep, apparently steadying herself.
Then she gives me a rigid nod. "The men are waiting Master. If we are to take the Ministry, then I should go."
"By all means." I agree.
She turns gracefully on her heel and strides to the door. To my eternal surprise, she lingers by the door and turns back to face me in earnest. "I told you once that I was yours to do with as you pleased. Mind body and soul, I said. You didn't believe me then… tell me, do you believe me now my Lord?"
"I believe you Bellatrix." I tell her quietly.
A smile graces her face. One which momentarily returns her to her former beauty. The first smile of true happiness I have seen her wear in over fifteen years.
"I'm glad." she says. And without another word, she marches off. My glorious, powerful Queen, one last time.